12. Match Game

12. Match Game

Match Game and the Blissful Point Where Then Meets Now


Alec Baldwin reached a crossroads a decade or so ago where there were several possible avenues available to him. In his mid-forties, the leading-man good looks he’d harnessed his whole career, while not completely faded, were besieged somewhat by time and a slight weight gain. He had just come off an unsuccessful Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the sublime The Cooler and it seemed his next step would be a combination of the following: authority figures in crime dramas (The Departed), antagonists in goofy comedies (Fun With Dick & Jane) and the lead role in an anti-hero TV show, à la The Sopranos. Instead, we got Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock, one of the greatest and most consistently funny characters of the 21st Century.

Alec Baldwin as the iconic Jack Donaghy. (Ali Goldstein/NBC)

It’s worth mentioning all of this because, once 30 Rock entered the picture, hosting a reinvigorated Match Game in 2016 seemed like a natural and welcome progression for Baldwin. The tools one requires to be a successful game show host were the very traits he’d been sharpening for seven years on the NBC sitcom: a wry, smirking alcoholic charm, peppered with a soupçon of Baldwin’s liberal wittiness in lieu of Doanghy’s right-winged fastidiousness. Always warm and ready with a winking rejoinder, Baldwin is just one of the many reasons that this iteration of Match Game succeeds where the 1990s version failed.

The game show, which first aired in the ‘60s, features contestants being given incomplete sentences or phrases, often with smutty connotations. They are then asked to supply a word to fill in the blank space which, to gain points, needs to match the same answers given by members of the celebrity panel. For example, “Jim can’t think about his dog without getting a [blank]”, and if you and Leslie Jones both write “boner”, you get a point. So, naturally, it’s a show conducive to old-school aesthetics, the humour being derived from the anticipation of crassness rather than the immediate dispensation of it. In that regard, the bright block letters, varnished wood and flashing bulbs that compose the set lend the show a corporeal feel that adds considerably to its lofty charms, a tip of the hat to the bygone era in which it was spawned; this sort of program was never meant to exist in a dimension of touch screens and digitized rendering.

Adam Goldberg, trying to make the best of it. (ABC)

Match Game is also blessed with a reliably funny and engaging panel of celebrities, most often bolstered by Rosie O’Donnell and a perpetually grinning Jack McBrayer. Give or take a sulky Adam Goldberg, no one acts like they’re above being there or condescends to any of the contestants when they enthusiastically celebrate small winnings. The good will and general amicability is so infectious that when Sarah Palin, of all people, makes an unexpected appearance, she fits in with the rest of the guests seamlessly; even when a Donald Trump question enters the mix, she doesn’t bat an eye, proving not only that she’s better at taking a joke than you might expect, but that the good natured ribbing at the show’s heart is very much in tact. Of course, that’s not to suggest that the audience is above booing panelists who provide shitty answers, though this often results in even more hilarity (Baldwin’s incredulous, “You can’t boo her… she’s a governor!” is almost the funniest moment of the series).

Sarah Palin, describing her policy positions. (ABC)

All of those assets aside, it’s still pretty remarkable that this is actually a thing. Think about it: a competent and genuinely entertaining rendering of a ‘60s game show in 2016 sounds about as likely as a Harambe biopic winning the Academy Award for Best Picture five years from now. There’s something to be said for Match Game’s success at this specific time and place though, about the palpable affection for cornball yucks and pleasure derived from watching people we recognise acting goofy. It almost seems like an antidote to an unusually turbulent and nasty year, reminding us, perhaps, of a time when not knowing how to fill in the blanks left us in a gleeful stupour, as opposed to fearful trepidation.


Match Game was previously available for streaming on Hulu but has subsequently been removed from the service, though it is expected to be made available in Australia in 2017.

3 Replies to “12. Match Game”

  1. I now have something to look forward to each day other than opening the windows on my atheist advent calendar, (today was an amoebae, so I’m fairly confident where they’re heading.)
    Where can Australians view this program for those of us who aren’t as hip as you?

    1. Hey Lyn. Glad to have been of service to you.

      Match Game was available to stream for a time on Hulu but, unfortunately, it was removed from their library some time over the prior month.
      Which is a bummer cos it is some really proper funny shit.

      Hopefully, after some negotiations with ABC (the American one) and the allocation of additional streaming rights to Australian services like Stan, it will be available over the coming months.

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

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